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The United States is the third largest consumer of seafood products in the world. The percentage of imported seafood consumed in the U.S. has steadily increased from 66% in 1999 to over 84% in 2009 (NOAA, 2012). Food safety, especially of imported foods and products from developing countries, has raised increasing concerns among American consumers and policy makers. Accordingly, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) border inspection system is considered critical for ensuring the safety of domestic seafood consumers (Ababouch et al., 2000). However, the potential non-tariff barrier to trade posed by FDA regulations, especially for many developing country exporters have been frequently cited in the literature. This paper investigates trends and patterns in U.S. import detentions and refusals of seafood products between 2000 and 2010. Data from U.S. FDA import refusal report is used to uncover patterns of detainments and import refusals across major exporting countries, World Bank income classification and time. The analysis in this paper suggests that the FDA’s approach to food safety regulation for seafood at U.S. ports of entry does not follow random selection based inspections. Instead, a system of Import Alerts results in targeted inspections and mandatory “flagging” of repeat code violation. We find evidence of increasing levels of seafood shipment detentions without physical examinations targeted at predominantly lower-middle income seafood exporting countries which make up the majority of the U.S. seafood supply.


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